It was late September and the sun was sinking in the west. As the brilliant fireball slowly faded, a silver sliver of a crescent moon was rising in its place. I was still many hours from home on this last ride of the season, but I wasn’t going to push it much further today. The roads were beautiful and sparse and I didn’t mind taking another day to enjoy them. The powerful water of the Columbia River along Hwy 97 carved through the dry desert and we passed through apple orchards side by side. Earlier, summiting a pass, the temperature was still very hot and summer like. The chair lifts were unswinging, hauntingly idle and still. The groomed brown trails below them and the A Frame cabins scattered about seemed oddly out of place and obsolete – like a dead man’s wallet.
Many times on this ride, I was escorted down graceful roads by changing trees. They were taking a defensive stance, and an unusually early display of autumn foliage was appearing. It had been a very dry summer and now an early fall. Whenever I pulled into a small town gas station or café, that was often the subject.
The sagebrush along my routes still looked comfortable, but the trees looked thirsty, and I saw round river rock stranded and exposed riding alongside the many dry or depleted streams and rivers on this ride.
I never encountered rain on this last ride out. Sometimes it tried, but mostly it was just empty threats. I was selfishly happy that none fell. In the big picture, rain would have been a good thing. This summer’s wildfires were exceptional, but it seemed they were finally winding down. Occasionally I would still pass a pocket of residual haze or see a plume of smoke off on a distant mountainside.
One day, somewhere in Eastern Oregon, the sky grew grey and thunder rumbled. It smelled of rain. Out in the distance it appeared to be falling, but as I approached and rode past that spot, the brief shower had come and gone. A low and sunken area had collected some rain that formed a shallow pool next to a stand of Quaking Aspens. Their golden and shimmering leaves reflected back in full color.
On other days on this ride, I rode past abundant farmland and evidence of recent harvests. There is something exhilarating, yet reflective about going by acres of corn stalks that have just given their bounty or the left over aroma of a sweet onion field when the labor is done. The hot dusty trucks are loaded with beets and broccoli along with potatoes, Russets and Yukon Golds. Soon they will be bound for the market, and eventually our dinner tables.
The Vintage ran flawlessly throughout this ride and swallowed up the miles without effort. I just pointed it where I wanted to go and we experienced it together. Sometimes things got blurry about just who was leading who, but at the end of day, saddle sore and satisfied, it didn’t matter. Early the next morning we would plot out a course, set sail again, and the hours would disappear as quickly as those miles.
Knowing this was the last ride of the season, there was a sense of contentment and accomplishment as I pulled into the garage. I closed the door behind me and looked around. There was no trace of this last week on the road filled with adventure and exhilaration. Nothing had changed here in the safe cocoon, familiar and protected. It was quiet. The rag with some spilt oil was untouched, the rain gloves I decided to leave behind sat empty, and the calendar, with my departure date circled, was frozen in time.
There’s nothing routine about a motorcycle ride. No two roads are the same, no two skies are alike. No horizon is ordinary and no day is average. Leaning into an uphill curve or breezing alongside a canyon wall, I can feel the very echoes and the lightness of flight. The allure of the open road remains, and the sights, sounds and the smell of the scenery are never far from mind. I’ll never grow weary or be estranged of all those twisting roads and windblown scents and ever changing landscapes.